Arbitrator’s Finding Of Untruthfulness Prohibits Reinstatement

Brian LaFrance was a deputy sheriff with the Kitsap County, Washington Sheriff’s Department. When the Department terminated LaFrance for untruthfulness and erratic behavior, his labor organization, the Kitsap County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild, challenged the termination in arbitration.

An arbitrator agreed that LaFrance had repeatedly been untruthful but decided that the County could not establish by clear and convincing evidence that termination was the proper form of discipline. The Arbitrator ordered the rescission of LaFrance’s discharge and stated that he could return to full duty if he passed physical and psychological examinations. While the Arbitrator awarded no back pay, he did require the County to make LaFrance whole for leave that he would otherwise have accrued during the period of time that he was terminated.

The County challenged the Arbitrator’s decision in court, arguing that the decision violated public policy. The Washington Court of Appeals agreed.

The Court began with the proposition that the law strongly favored the finality of arbitration awards, and that “the Arbitrator is the final judge of both the facts and the law and no review will lie for a mistake in either.” However, the Court also observed that “as with any contract, a court may not enforce a collective bargaining agreement that is contrary to public policy. If the contract as interpreted by the Arbitrator violates some explicit, well-defined, and dominant public policy, we are not required to enforce it.”

The Court found that by requiring the reinstatement of an untruthful deputy, the Arbitrator’s opinion violated public policy. As the Court described the evidence, “LaFrance repeatedly showed a lack of candor and inability to obey either Sheriff’s Department policies, Washington Rules of Evidence, or direct orders from his superiors. Put simply, LaFrance’s proven record of dishonesty prevents him from useful service as a law enforcement officer. To require his reinstatement to a position of great public trust in which he cannot possibly serve violates public policy. Therefore, we vacate the arbitration award.”

Kitsap County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild v. Kitsap County, 2007 WL 1822400 (Wash.App. 2007).

This article appears in the August 2007 issue